(Speech delivered by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. at the Asean Post Ministerial Conference 10+1 Sessions with The Dialogue Partners held in Bangkok, Thailand from July 31 to August 1, 2019)
Excellencies, co-chairs, we note US efforts to strengthen and enhance through a number of actions the Asean regional security architecture as a cornerstone of political freedom, economic development and free trade. Freedom of navigation operations demonstrate the vivacity of the concept as mere verbal assertion cannot. It is an expensive but necessary exercise for which we are all indebted to the United States. The Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific recognizes the connection between the two oceans and the traffic on them that is so essential to the progress of the world’s most dynamic region.
But our main concern is Asean centrality and the South China Sea, along with the seas up north, and the Western Pacific. Unless these immediate areas are secure, open and free, we are stretching our attention, concern, and resources farther than they can produce appreciable effects. We open ourselves to misinterpretation, mistrust and miscalculation. If we look too far out, we may miss what’s under our noses. Under the pretense of wider concerns, it gives an excuse not to attend to the immediate, with the urgency its proximity demands. The problem with the big picture is that the devil is in the details closest at hand.
Issue: South China Sea
On the South China Sea, the Philippines believes that every country with access to that body of water must respect all aspects of the sovereignties of all the others. We have yet to see how trenching on the sovereign rights of other countries can be sustainable let alone profitable in the short or long term—rather than self-defeating. We have heard all the tired slogans that are just variations on the theme of historical necessity; they do not arouse the mildest fear or interest on our part. It is pretty clear that there will never again be a hegemon in this or any other region of the world. The days of hegemony—one or several—along with spheres of influence are over. The terrible wars that afflicted our region showed both the extremes to which violence can go, and the narrow limits of what it can achieve—and even those are fleeting. Yesterday’s mortal enemies are today’s indispensable allies—what waste of lives. It’s a tired cliché but true, cooperation is the only way through; mutual benefit is the only promising basis for any connection. Threats don’t work. To acclaim oneself supreme or even superior in the near or long term, has become poor taste. Those days are over. Parochialism is dead. Present and future generations in all countries don’t look inward with satisfaction or back to the past with envy; they look only to the future with greater expectations than anything the near and present can offer. They look at the world and the future as their real homeland. That said, most countries today would be dominated by foreign powers without American exceptionalism—expressed in its unwavering, selfless because unrewarding commitment to right and law in international affairs—with substantial investments in realizing that commitment. Thank you.